Central Wisconsin nursing homes make long-term COVID-19 testing plans

Published: Jul. 13, 2020 at 6:40 PM CDT
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CENTRAL WISCONSIN, Wis. (WSAW) - The Department of Health Services is now recommending COVID-19 testing every two weeks for nursing home staff. Nursing homes say frequent testing of residents and staff just isn’t feasible.

Forty percent of people in Wisconsin who have died of COVID-19 was in a long-term care facility.

DHS says they encourage re-testing employees since they go in and out most often.

An administrator at Mount View Care Center says the initial round was labor-intensive. Instead of testing on a schedule, they say they’re only testing under certain circumstances.

North Central Health Care tested more than 450 staff members and more than 250 residents for COVID-19 across two nursing home facilities in the first round.

“It’s very time consuming, it’s collections, they have to be kept on ice, they have to be sent by a certain period of time. So it’s not just the actual testing. The testing for somebody is literally probably 5 minutes if there’s not a line,” said Kim Gochanour, an administrator for Mount View Care Center.

It took about 60 hours to test everyone. Gochanour says tests are unhelpful after days pass. In some cases, they waited four days for results. A spokesperson for Wausau Manor told Newschannel 7 they won't test bi-weekly for similar reasons.

“If somebody’s been exposed after the fact, it’s not giving you that feedback,” said Gochanour.

NCHC says it will do targeted tests when a resident moves in or comes out of the hospital. They will also test anyone with symptoms or exposure and put them on enhanced surveillance for 10 to 14 days.

“Our screenings for the nursing homes are so stringent that if anybody has any of the symptoms or has any exposure, we’re going to work with our employee health and they’re not allowed to be at work until further notice,” she said. “The parameters and the things we have in place are taking care of that, so we have not moved forward with bi-weekly testing at this time.”

LeadingAge Wisconsin and its President and CEO John Sauer advocate for nursing homes and care facilities across the state. He says getting rapid testing is key.

“We’re all urging, advocating, and expressing our need for rapid test results. And what we’re hearing back from the state is that those tests simply are not readily available,” Sauer said.

Sauer believes rapid tests could make weekly testing effective in preventing spread.

“If we’re testing someone, we don’t know that they are positive with COVID-19, and we find out 6 days after the fact, then obviously we have to do more testing of the residents they cared for and the people they worked with,” he said, pointing out that if people are waiting 6 days for results, they are essentially ineffective.

He says he agrees with prioritizing employees for testing.

“The highest priority, after those who express symptoms, will be the staff who work in nursing facilities,” he said.

A spokesperson for DHS, Elizabeth Goodsitt, says the state will cover the cost of testing for any facility that wants to follow the recommendation through the end of this year. The recommendation, however, is not a requirement.

Mount View successfully contained an employee’s positive case several months ago. Right now, no visitors are allowed at their nursing homes. But they’re looking into solutions for families to see their loved ones up close, including a plexiglass box that allows people to sit closer than six feet.

Copyright 2020 WSAW. All rights reserved.

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